Since I had always loved writing, I knew that I would write a story or book for my Ignite project. I chose to write about a problem, on a personal level or global scale, with the goal of bringing light to these issues in an engaging and connected way. Through this project, I gained skills in writing and learned that being an author isn’t easy. Creativity sparks, but when transforming that one idea into a thousand-or-ten-thousand-word story, the difficulty is huge. If I were to do this project again, I would try to pace my writing more evenly and stick to a strict schedule. The main problem I had was time.
Here is the digital exhibition of my project:
Check out my story – All That Is Left here
(The webpage may require VPN, unfortunately)
Here is my story (still in progress):
I was numb. It was as if all time had frozen, the world permanently stuck in this very moment. It seemed as if a supernatural force was firmly grasping my legs in place no matter how hard I ran to escape today.
I was not overwhelmed with grief or anger, but simply in a state of nothing. The screams and cries of my dad were just a faint buzzing, so close to me yet so distant. The crushing embrace from the nurse, meant to be comforting, felt like the slight itch of coarse linen against my skin. Everything was too loud and too quiet at the same time.
I didn’t know whether I wanted to scream, to shout, or to cry; whether I wanted to hug her tight and weep again her cold skin, or to run as far from this hellhole as possible. Instead, I just stared. Stared at her dirt-flecked skin against the pristine sheets, her tangled brown hair splayed across the bloodied pillow. My mother – dead.
The same woman who held my hand as I skipped through the meadows, the one who wiped my tears when I fell on the dirt path. The one who pinky-promised that she would never, ever leave me alone. My mother- gone.
I suffocated in the room, with the brightness of sunlight shining through the open windows. Without my mother’s bright presence, this light should not exist. The nurse gently gripped my arm and led my rigid body out the door, out of the grey building that had held my mother’s dead body since last night.
When we reached home, or rather the broken pieces of it, my father, eyes puffy and throat sore from his crying, tried to comfort me.
“How could you let mother die?!” Sudden anger bubbled inside of me, seemingly coming from nowhere. I knew it was unreasonable and selfish of me to blame my father for a matter of rotten and cruel luck, but I didn’t care.
He did not try to defend himself, and took those words like punches in his gut, as if he deserved it. However, his apologies only felt like sharp confirmations of my mother’s death. I ignored him and silently ascended to the darkness of my room. I settled in the corner of my closet, amongst the shadows that beckoned me to relax. There, I felt at home. So I wept, thinking of her slender hands braiding flowers into my hair. I wept, thinking of her encouraging and proud smile when I finished the marathon. I wept, recalling all the times she pushed my hair behind my ears, cupped my face, and told me everything was going to be okay. But nothing was anymore.
As the truth of recent events fully settled in my mind, tears streamed down nonstop. I screamed at the unfairness of it all – that someone as lovely as my mother has had a solid future taken away. Clutching my aching heart, I felt the gaping hole consume me whole, dragging me to the darkness. Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. My heart clenched, pounding faster and faster, and it felt like an invisible elastic band was squeezing it, testing the limits of how long I could take it until my heart exploded in my chest. The world was spinning and I was starting to see flecks of black in my vision. With my trembling right hand, I gripped the wooden headboard. I tried to run away, run from my body, from whatever was happening to it, but I couldn’t. Is this what dying feels like? what was left of my sanity wondered. A small part of me wished that this whatever-it-was would take me faster, take me to see my mother. But I was scared. Terrified to death. I can’t die, my mother would not want me to go out like this, a flickering spark in my mind whispered to my head. That thought anchored me to reality, urging me to be alright. And so I did.
My breathing evened out, and I lay on the soft sheets soaked by my sweat. Thinking about my close brush wish potential death, I drifted to sleep.
I don’t know how long I spent on my bed, whether it was minutes, or hours, or days. One morning, I woke up to the birds chirping and leaves rustling, and decided that I would go to school. As I trudged down the beige carpet stairs, I heard rapid footsteps becoming louder and louder.
“Az! How nice to see you finally, do you need anything?” An excited string of words.
“I…” Speaking felt unnatural after several days of silence. “No, I’m fine.”
Dad gave me a tight-lipped smile, which looked more like a grimace, and started heading to the kitchen.
“Wait,” I mumbled.
He stopped, and slowly turned back around. I saw his bloodshot eyes and the exhaustion written in his every move. I knew that in some degree, I also brought this misery to him with his concern about me for the past few days.
“Thank you,” I whispered. He knew that this wasn’t only for the breakfast he was about to make, but for everything.
“Anytime, darling.” He grinned, sauntering back to the kitchen.
Breakfast passed in silence, both of us still grieving our loss, the hope taken away from the both of us. Excusing myself from the table, I prepared to board the bus.
“Have a good day, okay?” Dad called out, not just a farewell, but a request for me to be okay. Maybe, one day I will be able to move on, but not yet.
I shrugged, and followed the impatient tap of fingers coming from the bus driver.
“Oh my god Azure, where were you?” A warm hand firmly grasped my arm. God, I hated my name. Azure – sky blue. It was too pure, too clean for my stained soul.
“Oh, hey Em, good to see you too,” I half-heartedly greeted her. Emily, I knew, did not really care, not that I minded.
I made my way to the back of the bus, avoiding all the curious stares that made me want to curl up in a corner and let the world forget me. Sitting down in my usual seat, I plugged my earphones back in, while the rest of the bus forgot about my weeklong absence.
“Are you okay?”
I blinked and looked up into a pair of hazel eyes. Elena always knew when something was wrong, if my bloodshot eyes were a dead giveaway. But my mother’s death was too personal, too private. I did not want others’ pity and false regards.
“Yeah, just a little tired, that’s all,” I nodded and gestured to the seat next to me.
Although she was still in doubt, my best friend accepted my obvious lie.
The school day passed as usual. I was just another junior – average grades and average looks. I could disappear one day and the only person who might notice would be Elena. Which, I suppose, isn’t so bad after all. I immediately blended into the shadows and slipped out of the glass doors once I heard the first ring of the bell. It was selfish of me to leave without saying goodbye to my friends before two weeks of spring break, but I didn’t care. Caring wouldn’t bring my mother back, caring wouldn’t heal this wound in my heart.
But what would?
I knew the answer.
As the digital clock beside my bed flashed midnight, I slung my backpack onto one shoulder, and carefully placed the note on my pillow.
I appreciate everything you had done for me after that thing I don’t want to speak of, but this house – this place – reminds me too much of her. I wish you would understand my decision, and not come looking for me. I have enough money for however long I need to spend away, and I drove the car, if you don’t mind.
Take care and I love you,
I couldn’t bear saying this to my father in person, call me a coward, but I just couldn’t. It’s clear to picture the shaking of my hand when I wrote “I love you”, but I hope he wouldn’t notice. There are so many things that could go wrong, I realized. But nothing as wrong as what happened on that dreadful Wednesday night.
Running away from home had always seemed like a dumb thing that book and movie characters do. Why would they leave a place where free housing, free food, necessities and even wants are provided, instead, go into the unknown with so many variables that could ruin everything? J sheer out of emotion and temptation? But now, feeling too small, too big for this house, I understood why a getaway was necessary.
I had carefully planned my escape, or as much as I could in one night. I brought enough clothes for several days, a stack of quarters for laundry, the gas card, cash stored in different compartments of my bag, my ID, all the necessary things for survival in Pennsylvania. In the most secure section, I placed a picture of my mother.
I prayed that my light footsteps wouldn’t wake my dad as I made my way out of the house. Crisp, cool wind welcomed my first step out the door. Soaked in moonlight, I left and didn’t look back.
I’ve always enjoyed driving at night, with just the headlights and flickering street lights illuminating my way. There was something peaceful about this that I cherished, being used to the noise and shouts of city drivers. I drove for half an hour, with only the occasional car passing by, until I reached Elizabethtown. I only just decided to head northwest to here once I hopped on the car. I checked into a small motel at the edge of town and stayed there for the night.
“Good morning!” A voice chirped.
I waved to the owner of the motel. He looked like a man in his fifties, with a pudgy face and round body. He was way too happy for my mood and liking, but I guess I’d have to tolerate him.
“What’s a pretty girl like you doing here, arriving in the middle of the night?” He asked, making small talk. “How old are you anyway?”
“16, sir,” I said. There was no point lying to him anyway.
“Looks about right. Have fun!” He rushed to an impatient customer.
After hastily finishing breakfast, I strolled down the streets and headed to Elizabethtown College. I remembered my first time here – mom holding my hand and telling me tales of her four years spent in and amongst the red brick walls. This was where, mom had told me, she felt like her life really started. So many memories and friends were made in her time as an undergraduate. This small liberal college was her second home.
I clutched her picture tightly as I walked with the tour group, trying to hold back the tears. Every time we visited, mom would introduce each building and all the stories that took place there – the late night parties, pranks on professors, failing tests, embarrassing situations. I knew each hallway and corner of the college, and could probably navigate the campus with my eyes closed.
“Hey, are you okay?” I felt a light tap on my left shoulder.
Startled, I turned around. A pair of concerned eyes stared down at mine. I caught my breath. His eyes reminded me of the swirls of blue in the whirlpool I saw with my mom on my fourth birthday. I suddenly realized he asked me a question.
“Oh, um, yeah, I’m fine,” I stuttered, wiping away my remaining tears. “Allergies.”
He nodded skeptically, but did not pry any further and caught up with the tour group. A part of me wanted him to stay, but I knew better than that. Deciding that the tour was boring, I left to explore the campus myself. The silence was overwhelming, despite the loud laughter of the students and tourists. This was my first time here alone, I realized. Suddenly, I couldn’t take it, I had to get away from this place that will always belong to my mother. I sprinted out the gates, ignoring all the judgmental stares from passersby. I ran until all the air in my lungs were being squeezed out and I felt myself collapse to the hard cement. My chest tightened, and with a sinking feeling, I realized I was having another episode.
It felt just like the last time – a heart attack, a seizure, dying, I don’t know. But I knew it was just as bad, if not worse, than that day after my mother’s death. My breathing quickened, and I frantically stumbled to a small alley. Leaning against the wall in support, then sliding to the floor, I prayed no one would notice me. My heart beat fast to the point of combustion, and I struggled to inhale. Looking around in panic, a small coffee shop caught my eye.
It was a Saturday morning just like every other sunny day before it. The strong scent of freshly brewed coffee filled the streets, and many fell victim to the lure of the cafés. Of course, including my mother, an integral part of the community of Elizabethtown.
“But I don’t like coffee!” I complained, being dragged towards a small shop at the corner of the street.
“Trust me, dear, you’ll love it there.” My mother smiled. “Besides, you can always get some waffles.”
My eyes lit up at the mention of my favorite brunch food, so I followed mom willingly. The smell of the most delicious foods hit me first. I looked around the shop – it wasn’t big, but every corner of it felt like home, although I had never been here. Delicate tapestries adorned the basic wooden walls; wooden tables and comfy couches were scattered loosely on the wooden floor; the hearth placed in the middle of the back wall crackled with warm flames, and people chattered lightheartedly. On that precious Saturday morning, my mom and I sat on quilted cushions, huddled by the fire. I remember, that day, I had ordered a mug of hot chocolate and a plate of waffles. I remember thinking that the food was a close second to my mom’s homemade breakfast. I remember swirling the metal spoon and ruining the heart-shaped cream on my mom’s latte, then sipping a bit of it, scrunching my eyebrows at the bitter taste of caffeine.
That day was nothing short of perfect, and I remember being so, incredibly happy.
Tethered to the joy from that memory, I regained my composure. My breathing eased, my heart relaxed, and I hesitantly made my way to the café. A small part of my consciousness knew what just happened wouldn’t repeat itself in that place that had brought me, myself, so much happiness.
The café was just as I had recalled. A glass chandelier hung from the low ceiling, and I could almost reach it if I jumped high enough. The atmosphere was still the same – friendly, cozy, and everything my home used to be. I greeted the woman behind the counter – Grace – her name tag read.
“Hi, may I please have a large hot chocolate and a plate of waffles? Extra strawberries please.” I repeated my order from three years ago.
I brought my food to the same place I sat all those years ago – a small table next to the fireplace. The smell of burnt wood, rich chocolate, and sweet dough reminded me of home. I savored every bite – the coolness of the whipped cream, juice of the strawberries, mixed with the heat of the waffles. I drank every last drop of the thick hot chocolate and watched the liquid drip down a side of the white mug.
This place – anything and everything about it – was, and still is, my second favorite place in my world.
That night I stayed at the same motel. After dinner, on my way back to the motel, I looked up to the night sky. The stars, beautiful as ever, enticed me to stare. I decided that today, like any, would be a good day to gaze at the stars and wish.
Masses of farmlands and unplowed fields can be seen just a few minute walk from the town center. With only the glow of the moon and stars leading me, I ended up on a small dirt hill. There was something idyllic about the lone, dried up tree sitting on top of the hill, its crooked branches illuminated against the night sky.
I sat beside the tree, afraid that if I just so touched it, the bark would crumble, this peaceful scene would shatter. I gazed up at the gleaming stars, just like every other time the walls were too confining, too small for a free spirit like me. The stars never ceased to amaze me – I could spend eternity recognizing and admiring every constellation.
That cold winter night six years ago, when my first pet hamster had died, I sat on the porch and cried under the stars. Mom assured that the stars were watching over me, and my hamster would soon find its place up in the heavens. I held her close on the smug couch – just the two of us. As my tears slowly dried on her sleeve, she promised me she would never leave me alone.
To this day, I can still picture one particular constellation staring down at us – Horologium – The Clock.
Perhaps tears fell, I’m not sure, but I didn’t care. I don’t know how long I sat there, immersed in the stars.
“They’re beautiful, aren’t they?” A soft male voice said.
I jumped at the voice, and heard a chuckle.
“Sorry to bother you. I just saw you here, in my favorite part of town.”
It was the same person who I met during the college tour. A student, I guessed.
“It’s fine, I was just a little surprised, naturally, as one does when a stranger approaches them.” I tried for some humor.